Political Science

Here is one excerpt from his very interesting post:

I get and very much like the skeptical, anti-theoretical thrust of Strauss. I like his deep wariness of ideal theorizing, his exhortations to pay attention to the political life we are always already living. He’s right to see reasoning with others about about how to live as an inherently political activity. He’s right to insist on honoring the distinctive excellences of those sensitive to the texture of real political life and expert in its ceaseless negotations. He’s right that social scientific theories about politics are less politically valuable then good political judgment, and that people who think they’re going to govern “scientifically” are dangerously stupid. (Paraphrasing, here.) And, yes, when philosophy is merely a handmaiden to the dogmas of our age, pursued under the “ecumenical supervision” of the universities, it is profoundly compromised. To be a philosopher is not to have a job you clock in and out of. To be a philosopher is simply to be, philosophically, always. Right! But the Socratic life is the one very best life? The naturally right, life? Nope. Nope. I’ve read and read and never quite follow how we end up there. I mean, I think this is a great life, beyond wonderful. But nope.

Anyway, Strausseans are strangely obsessed with this idea that the philosophical life, so construed, is the best human life, full stop, and are therefore obsessed with the tension between the best life, which is in the business of exposing bullshit, and the political life, which is built on it.

I am very happy to order this book in advance, I hope Will lets me know when that is possible.

I may not follow any of your suggestions, but just thought I should ask for advice, for my dialogue with Peter next week.  I am the interviewer, he is the interviewee, more or less.  #CowenThiel

China under Mao

by on March 26, 2015 at 2:37 am in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the new and excellent book by Andrew G. Walder.  Here is one excerpt:

The Communists’ contribution to the war effort was extremely modest.  According to a December 1944 Soviet Comintern report, a total of more than 1 million Nationalist troops had been killed in battle, compared to 103,186 in the CCP’s Eighth Route Army and another several thousand in the New Fourth Army.  The Communists suffered only 10 percent of total Chinese military casualties.  One author has called Mao’s famous doctrine of people’s war one of the “great myths” about the period: “people’s war was hardly used in the conflict against the Japanese.”

Definitely recommended.

From The New Left Review, Moretti and Pestre report:

Three new semantic clusters characterize the language of the Bank from the early 1990s on. The first—and most important—has to do with finance: here, alongside a few predictable adjectives (financial, fiscal, economic) and nouns (loans, investment, growth, interest, lending, debt), we find a landslide of fair value, portfolio, derivative, accrual, guarantees, losses, accounting, assets; a little further down the list, equity, hedging, liquidity, liabilities, creditworthiness, default, swaps, clients, deficit, replenishment, repurchase, cash. In terms of frequency and semantic density, this cluster can only be compared to the material infrastructures of the 1950s–60s; now, however, work in agriculture and industry has been replaced by an overwhelming predominance of financial activities.

…The second cluster has to do with management—a noun that, in absolute terms, is the second most frequent of the last decade (lower than loans, but higher than risk and investment!). In the world of ‘management’, people have goals and agendas; faced with opportunities, challenges and critical situations, they elaborate strategies. To appreciate the novelty, let’s recall that, in the 1950s–60s, issues were studied by experts who surveyed and conducted missions, published reports, assisted, advised and suggested programmes. With the advent of management, the centre of gravity shifts towards focusing, strengthening and implementing; one must monitor, control, audit, rate (Figure 2); ensure that everything is done properly while also helping people to learn from mistakes. The many tools at the manager’s disposal (indicators, instruments, knowledge, expertise, research) enhance effectiveness, efficiency, performance, competitiveness and—it goes without saying—promote innovation.

The concept of governance is another clear winner in more recent times, and furthermore the reports seem to overuse the word “and” relative to the word “the.”  That I can believe.  The article is interesting throughout, hat tip goes to Avinash Celstine.

That is the new Ian Bremmer book, with the subtitle Three Choices for America’s Role in the World.  It can be Indispensable America (our postwar role), Moneyball America (pick priorities and accomplish them), or Independent America (limited foreign policy aspirations but lots of nation-building at home and trade abroad), and Ian prefers the latter — “I believe it’s time for Americans to redefine our value to the world.”  Most of all he thinks we have to choose, and articulate the reasons for our choice; right now we are left with Question Mark America, arguably the worst of all worlds.

As you would expect from a focus on foreign policy, he builds a good case for TPP, starting on p.114, from a broadly social democratic point of view, very much worth the read.

The most notable feature of this book is that Bremmer constructs the very best case for each of the foreign policy approaches, not just his favorite, and in this sense he makes the maximum effort to instruct the reader.  We could use a lot more of this approach.  He is also one of the very best people to follow on Twitter.

In just about every field I looked at, having a successful parent makes you way more likely to be a big success, but the advantage is much smaller than it is at the top of politics.

Using the same methodology, I estimate that the son of an N.B.A. player has about a one in 45 chance of becoming an N.B.A. player. Since there are far more N.B.A. slots than Senate slots, this is only about an 800-fold edge.

Think about the N.B.A. further. The skills necessary to be a basketball player, especially height, are highly hereditary. But the N.B.A. is a meritocracy, with your performance easy to evaluate. If you do not play well, you will be cut, even if the team is the New York Knicks and your name is Patrick Ewing Jr. Father-son correlation in the N.B.A. is only one-eleventh as high as it is in the Senate.

Emphasis added by me.  And this:

An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

That is all from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz.

Corey Robin has a useful survey of responses from the Left, some of which include repudiations of Zionism, in addition to claims that the current Israeli policies simply have to unravel, to the detriment of virtually everybody.  Think of the latter as a prediction of comeuppance, much like how inequality critics sometimes predict eventual doom for the wealthy if they do not redistribute their wealth.

From a separate direction, economist Glen Weyl explains on Facebook why he is now supporting the BDS movement.

I’m not interested in debating the normative side of the election, or various peace plans, right now.  What I find striking is how unready many critics are to confront what has happened, not just in the “Plan B” sense but also rhetorically.  The possibility that civil rights progress, peace progress, and self-governance and democratic progress simply have stopped, and won’t be back any time soon, is before us.  If anything, matters might become worse yet, especially once you contemplate Gaza.  Yet Western commentators don’t know where to turn, because the prevailing progressive narrative is one, not surprisingly, of progress.  The common progressive remedy is one of moral exhortation, but at this point it doesn’t seem like another lecture to Israeli voters is going to do the trick.

Such stagnation and possibly retrogression in outcomes is hardly novel at the global level, and even within Israel/Palestine proper it’s far from clear there has been much actual news from the Israeli election (i.e., the two-state solution has been failing for some while now).  Still, Israel attracts enough attention, and loyalty, that this is producing an intellectual crisis for many.  Some people feel they have been made fools of, and they are no longer happy playing along with the fantasy of an eventual peace deal based on ideals of democracy and rule of law.  They wish to recast their mood affiliations, but where really to turn?

By the way, the world has been getting more violent since 2007.

Our social and political life is awash in unconsciously held Christian ideas broken from the theology that gave them meaning, and it’s hungry for the identification of sinners—the better to prove the virtue of the accusers and, perhaps especially, to demonstrate the sociopolitical power of the accusers.

That is from Joseph Bottum, via PW.

In some recent talks I’ve argued that the future may be coming first to both Israel and Singapore.  Today let’s consider Israel by listing a few features of that country:

1. The tech sector is important, and, partially as a result of that, income inequality is very high; see Paul Krugman’s post on the latter.

2. There is a large segment of lower middle class, intelligent bohemians, whose low incomes do not reflect their real standard of living and orderly lives.  Many of them study Torah, and receive a kind of (selective) guaranteed annual income.

3. The rent is too damn high, and that won’t be changing anytime soon, due to building restrictions.  The bohemian class generally chooses lower rent venues to pursue its preferred lifestyle.

4. Unlike most current North Americans, Israelis do not take geopolitical stability for granted.

5. There is intense and widespread concern with demographics and the economics of population.

Here is Ezra on TPP:

5. Here’s how the White House sees it: there will either be a trade deal with America at the core of it that forces countries like Vietnam and Malaysia to live up to labor and environmental standards the Obama administration finds acceptable, or there will be a trade deal with China at the core of it that forces countries like Vietnam and Malaysia to live up to labor and environmental standards China finds acceptable. Which would you prefer?

6. There’s also a bigger foreign policy objective here. TPP is central to the Obama administration’s long-heralded “pivot to Asia.”…

Do read the whole thing, to not pursue some version of TPP is basically to turn our backs on much of Asia.  Or think of TPP as an attempt to cartelize ASEAN nations and others in the region against Chinese one-by-one bilateral bargaining, most of all on geopolitical issues, not just labor and environmental standards.

Matt Yglesias comments, he says beware of economists (i.e., me) bearing foreign policy arguments.  And here are Autor, Dorn, and Hanson on TPP, as Dani Rodrik pointed on on Twitter they offer a relatively mercantilist argument in favor of the agreement.

Mark Brown asks me:

If voting with your feet was your preferred method, what would be the best country to immigrate to from the United States for: A) Progressives B) Social Conservatives C) Libertarians

As a follow up, a common expression in the US among adults as I was growing up was “its a free country”. That expressed both disdain of the expressed course of action and a willingness to let the fool do what he wanted. Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn are literary representatives of that, what should I call it, frontier freedom? Are there countries that even if the official line is restrictive, the feeling of liberty might be much greater? Am I nuts to feel that in many ways the US is less free than it was a couple of generations ago?

For Progressives I’ll pick Denmark.  They have high taxes and ultimately they are not too friendly toward immigration, instead preferring to keep their social policy comprehensive and expensive.  Sweden may not quite manage the same, although they are still a fairly high pick on this list.  Another direction to look would be Australia, where government spending is most likely to actually be redistributive.

For Social Conservatives, I say Singapore.  They are tough on drugs and the citizens are expected to work and required to save.  Parents are treated with respect, at least relative to the West, and when it comes to births at the very least they are trying hard with subsidies and ads on buses.  An underrated pick here would be France, by the way.

For Libertarians, I say the United States.  For all of the statist intervention in this country, it remains the place where markets are capable of exercising the most power for the better.  And it is no accident that such a huge chunk of the world’s libertarians are also Americans, or at least heavily American-influenced.  Singapore is in the running for this designation, with its government at eighteen percent of gdp, but so many things there are planned so comprehensively and the attitude of the country is more technocratic than free market per se.  Hong Kong is no longer such a free economy, having come under increasing Chinese influence not to mention law-enforced cartelization, and that is on top of their government-supplied housing stock and single payer health care system.

As for the last part of this question, the relatively peaceful parts of Mexico, in my view, very often feel freer than the United States.  But I am never sure how much that is worth.

I agree with much of the economics in his post, though I would frame the points with a different kind of rhetoric.  But I think Krugman is nonetheless wrong to oppose TPP.  You will notice the word “China” does not appear in his argument.  He closes with a question: “Why, exactly, should the Obama administration spend any political capital – alienating labor, disillusioning progressive activists – over such a deal?”  The answer is simple: either this deal happens on American terms, or an alternative deal arises on Chinese terms without our participation.  For rather significant foreign policy reasons we prefer the former, and the pragmatic side of President Obama understands this pretty well.

Addendum: Brad DeLong comments.

The newspaper header is:

Panos Kammenos, Greece’s defence minister, threatens to open country’s borders to refugees – including potential members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) – unless Athens receives debt crisis support

The story is here, via Andrea Castillo.  Whether it jives with your mood affiliation or not, it’s time to admit “these people simply don’t know what they are doing.”  Fortunately, it does seem the Greek government has been walking back on this talk.

Corrado Gini, he of the Gini index, was a numbers man, at a time when statistics had become a modern science. In 1925, four years after Gini wrote “Measurement of Inequality of Incomes,” he signed the “Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals” (he was the only statistician to do so) and was soon running the Presidential Commission for the Study of Constitutional Reforms. As Jean-Guy Prévost reported in “A Total Science: Statistics in Liberal and Fascist Italy” (2009), Gini’s work was so closely tied to the Fascist state that, in 1944, after the regime fell, he was tried for being an apologist for Fascism. In the shadow of his trial, he joined the Movimento Unionista Italiano, a political party whose objective was to annex Italy to the United States. “This would solve all of Italy’s problems,” the movement’s founder, Santi Paladino, told a reporter for Time. (“Paladino has never visited the U.S., though his wife Francesca lived 24 years in The Bronx,” the magazine noted.) But, for Gini, the movement’s purpose was to provide him with some anti-Fascist credentials.

There is more here at the Jill Lepore review of the new Robert Putnam book (and other books), via the excellent Kevin Lewis.  And please no, I am not trying to suggest that an interest in inequality numbers is fascist in orientation, I simply find such historical tidbits fascinating.  Here are further sources on Corrado Gini, not surprisingly he was into eugenics too.

Even though the Greek electorate has elected left-wing leaders, the “the Greek government” hasn’t actually changed all that much.  It is still dysfunctional, corrupt, and very protective of special interests in nationally harmful ways.  Yet I find that if I criticize the Greek government on Twitter I receive many angry, self-righteous comebacks, often but not always from Greeks and usually with a left-wing slant.

One reason the Greek government is so popular with “the Left” has to do, I think, with theories of social change.  I often read or hear it suggested that, if only the truth is spoken in forthright, galvanizing terms, beneficial social change will follow.  This was a common meme in Krugman’s columns for instance over the years.  The claim was that Obama needed to be more like FDR and mobilize a coalition around a commonly articulated series of truths.  I don’t think it was ever promised this would succeed right away, due to Republican intransigience, but it has been portrayed as a good long-run investment in political change through the education of the citizenry.

The new Greek government of course has done this and more.  They have rather flamboyantly staked out extreme positions, insulted their opponents, and warned of the doom that will follow if renegotiations were to run along the lines of EU law rather than the New Old Keynesian economics.  They told their citizenry how much they were standing up for them, and how much this was a moral clash of progressive good vs. austerity evil, with the values of democracy and national sovereignty (supposedly) on the side of good.

The thing is, it’s turned out to be a total catastrophe.  As I had suggested early on, there is, in the ruling Greek coalition, no Plan B.  Germany and especially Spain just held tight on the negotiations and the Greek government more or less had to fold, not even wanting to vote on the negotiated plan.  That plan then failed to receive European approval, nor has Greece drummed up much general support from the other peripheral countries, and now no one knows what to do next.  The ECB, IMF, and others still have Greece “by the balls,” to cite one colloquial expression.  They’re still trying to spin that “the institutions” are not the Troika, but they don’t talk much about liberating the economy as a means of increasing exports.  It seems Emergency Liquidity Assistance may be up for review.  Oops.

The Greek government also riled up its citizens and now doesn’t know how to deliver anything satisfactory to them, to the detriment of political stability.  The latest irresponsible plan is to threaten a referendum on a new government, a new economic plan, or in one case even a referendum on euro membership was mentioned.  Message discipline is scarcely to be seen.

All of that is simply painting the Greek government into a corner all the more, since a referendum will simply heighten the demands for mutually inconsistent outcomes.  Signs of broader eurozone recovery, and the relative success of QE in talking down the value of the euro, have almost completely removed the bargaining power of Syrizas, or so it seems as of early March.

As I’ve said before, these people ruling Greece are The Not Very Serious People, and they are increasingly acquiring a reputation as such within the rest of the EU and eurozone.

All of this reminds me of the wisdom of Dani Rodrik and his propositions about the incompatibility of democracy, national sovereignty, and global economic integration.  Angry words won’t undo those constraints and they are not something you will hear the Greek government mention very often.

Krugman a few times has praised Syrizas for renegotiating the required primary surplus figures, but it seems this is hardly mattering.  Due to plummeting tax collection, the primary surplus is gone in any case, and the agreement with “the institutions” [read: Troika] is not even the main driver of the action here.  Greece needs to take steps to reestablish a higher [read: positive] primary surplus in any case.

The broader lesson is this: if politicians are not “speaking the truth to power,” there are usually some pretty good reasons for that.   As a political strategy, it doesn’t typically work and it is worse than irrelevant as it very often backfires.

The situation is still not beyond repair, but the Very Serious People are serious for a reason.